Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sword and Sorcery, Volume 1: Amethyst by Christy Marx, Aaron Lopresti (Illustrations), Various (Illustrations)

Sword of Sorcery, Vol. 1: AmethystSword of Sorcery, Vol. 1: Amethyst by Christy Marx
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit that the cover made me pass this by a few times because the cover looks like a Barbie-theme graphic novel. Don't get me wrong. I went through a huge Barbie doll phase. I still have a collection of Barbie dolls. But I never got into the Barbie merchandise and have no desire to read a Barbie graphic novel or watch a Barbie movie. I really wish the cover wasn't so bubble gum-looking.

Nevertheless, I decided to check this out. It's actually not bad. It's definitely sword and sorcery. I like the genre, and I think it was done quite well. The whole idea of Amethyst as a seventeen-year-old who comes into her heritage as a powerful princess of another kingdom is pretty cool. I like that each kingdom represents a different precious gem. However, one of my issues with the way Amethyst is drawn is Amy looks like just her mother and aunt. It was only possible to tell them apart based on what they were wearing. I think there was more variation in the other kingdoms, thankfully. While I wasn't loving the whole Barbie verisimilitude, the action and magic was actually pretty cool.

Talking about strange bedfellows. Amethyst is paired with Beowulf and Stalker, which are both very violent and more male-oriented sword and sorcery tales. It was a bit of a rough transition, probably moreso for readers who don't jump back and forth between male and female-oriented fiction.

Beowulf was kind of a cool update on the old tale. Instead of it being the original Beowulf, it's about a genetically engineered warrior of the same name, created by the Basilisk (who I know about from reading The Suicide Squad series). There is a link between Grendel and Beowulf because of Basilisk. Beowulf isn't strictly likable, but he definitely is good at killing monsters. I would read more of these stories.

Stalker is about an ancient warrior king who makes an unwise deal with Lucifer that comes back to bite him in the rear. He goes on a mission to get revenge in return. It was the darkest story. Readers who like horror action will enjoy it.

Overall, pretty good. If the cover makes you want to avoid it, I say give this a try.

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Irredeemable Vol.6 by Mark Waid, Peter Krause

Irredeemable, Vol. 6Irredeemable, Vol. 6 by Mark Waid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it fair to review this when I accidentally read these out of order? I figured I probably should before I forget what I read.

I thought I had read volume five, but I was wrong, and I realized it fairly soon after I started reading it.

Waid is a tricky fellow. He has some moments where you feel just as delusional as Plutonian does. I couldn't figure out what was really happening. The other lowdown thing he does is have me feeling kinda sorry for Plutonian. Yeah, I wish I didn't. He's a really bad guy. But at the same time, he has some pathology that makes you a softhearted person which things had gone differently for him.

Although this was weird as all get out, and it has quite a few sexual deviants in it, I ended liking this volume more than I previously expected. It was freaky weird, and gave me a different vantage point. I needed it though, because I thought I had maxed out on how much I could despise Plutonian, and I wondered where it could go next. It looks like it can go very far.

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I, Vampire, Vol. 2: Rise of the VampiresI, Vampire, Vol. 2: Rise of the Vampires by Joshua Hale Fialkov
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

How can a vampire insurrection get any worse? Add zombies to the equation. I like vampire fiction. Zombie fiction? Not so much. Well, it depends on how it's done. This, well it was creepy and exciting and freaky. Add in some fundamentalist vampire hunters, then it's a party.

On the downside, the Gothic atmosphere I enjoyed so much in the first book isn't as evident. I missed it. On the good side, lots of action and some serious plot twists. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies. And bad guys become good guys (sort of), and maybe vice versa.

Stormwatch comes to lend a hand in the situation. Andrew could honestly use the help. But let's remember the cardinal rule: Andrew Barnett is not to be underestimated.

I'm going to take a break on this series, but I'll be back eventually.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Wolverine: Japan's Most Wanted by Jason Latour (Text), Jason Aaron (Text), Yves Bigerel (Illustrations), Paco Diaz (Illustrations)

Wolverine: Japan's Most WantedWolverine: Japan's Most Wanted by Jason Latour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was trying to figure out why I didn't like this more. With some distance, I realized I wasn't that fond of the artwork or the lettering. Wolverine is such an intense fellow, and his story is visceral and real. I like the art to reflect this. While bright colors don't come amiss to this art lover, I felt that the style of artwork was too cartoonish. Is that a thing when it comes to graphic novels? I guess it is, because it felt that way when I was reading this.

I am such an unbelievable sucker for anything martial arts and swordplay, and I have this bizarre obsession with the movie "The Wolverine". I've watched it quite a bit. I wonder if that movie was loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on this graphic novel, or does this go back to the older Wolverine series? Anyway, I saw some scenes that seemed echoed in the movie. I would have loved to see the movie mirror this story a bit more, but with the artwork that is so endearing to me in the X-Force run by Craig Kyle. I would have been blown away by this if it had that sort of visual style. Because the story itself was pretty good.

One of my favorite parts in this was when Logan gets in touch with his inner samurai. I really ate that part up. As of late, I have become quite the Wolverine fan. And my friend who is a Wolverine acolyte isn't even returning my calls, so he doesn't know how much his obsession has rubbed off on me. (*heavy sigh*)

At any rate, I feel myself rambling. Let's get back on point. That Sabertooth is so revolting to me in every way. I think this book really captures that about his character, and how he's like a bad case of retroviral latent infection. He always comes back, often worse than ever. Poor Logan. At times, it seems a mercy that his memory is spotty in great parts.

I picked this up because it's really hard to figure out where to dive in to start reading Wolverine's series. I did read Weapon X back in the day. It's been a while. And because this is set in Japan. I figure I couldn't go wrong. Overall, it was okay. Not a bad start. I am looking forward to reading more Wolverine in the near future.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Stormwatch, Vol. 1: The Dark SideStormwatch, Vol. 1: The Dark Side by Paul Cornell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up because of the mention of Stormwatch in another graphic novel I had finished, and partially because Martian Manhunter is in it. I thought it might be an interesting story. I had no previous information about this book going into it, and I feel that newbies might be confused with this first book. It's a reboot of the series, since DC Comics absorbed Wildstorm, and as a result of the New 52, DC Comics-wide reboot.

It's pretty good, but I was left pretty confused about what was going on. The cast is intriguing, and it sort of reminded me of the BBC show Torchwood a little, although it's not exactly like it.

Things I liked:

*I liked the idea of a motley crew hanging out in hyperspace and going on missions to protect the galaxy and more specifically Planet Earth.

*There is a pretty diverse group of folks in the group.

*Since I am a bit of a sucker for swordsmanship, I liked that one of the crew was the Eminence of Blades, pretty much the Master of all Swordmasters.

*For those who like a little bit of GLBT, there is a love at first sight scenario between Apollo and Midnighter.

*Apollo's power of absorbing solar energy and using it to give himself super strength was pretty cool.

*Jack Hawskmoor can essentially communicate with the spirit of all cities. That was kind of neat.

What I Didn't Care For:

*I was confused about what going on. The writing essential drops you in the story in media res, with no background and limited revelation on characters as the story goes along. The sketches at the end told me more about the characters than I learned reading it. I don't think that's a good strategy since the whole New 52 is about introducing new readers to tried and true imprints.

*The layout was awkward and contributed to my feeling of confusion about what was going on. The artwork didn't speak to my soul very much. It wasn't bad, with the colors being bright and appealing, but not really that impressive. As a side note, I couldn't tell if Midnighter was supposed to be black and that Jenny Quantum was Asian.

**As an aside, I looked this up on New 52 and I think they took a pretty different direction with the story from what it was in the Wildside comics. It seems much less edgy that it once was. That's neither here nor there.

Overall, this was okay. Not bad, but not that impressive. I might pick up later volumes, but it's not a huge priority at this point.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Swamp Thing, Volume 2: Family Tree by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette (Artist), Marco Rudy (Artist), Francesco Francavilla (Artist), Kano (Artist), Becky Cloonan (Artist)

Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Family TreeSwamp Thing, Vol. 2: Family Tree by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one better than the first. I don't know if it's because it gives us some background on Alec and in particular how his fate became entangled with Abigail. The battle between the Green and the Rot feels epic. In this book, we see that the battle also involves the other vital force, the Red, which is the animal primal nature.

I really like the concept of plantlife being powerful and sentient. I think it's because I love plants and I am a keen gardener. I feel like that part of me that loves plants connects to Alec as a hero. And the part of me that is a healer instinctively rejects the Rot. I like that Abigail's fate isn't predetermined. That Alec fights for her and she fights against it herself. I feel that bad her brother had chosen the darker path.

This series is definitely more horror than anything else. Lots of disturbing imagery, but the artwork is in its own way very beautiful. I think this one has earned four stars from me. I will keep reading!

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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Steelheart" is a should read for fans of 'superhero' fiction. This is a different vantage point of superheroes though. In this world, they are the villains. Called "Epics", they are humans who manifest powers after a comet called "Calamity" arrives. These guys are just plain mean, and above that, they are also murderous psychopaths if not sociopaths who believe that their abilities make them above the rules and also human ethics and right and wrong.

Sanderson is a great writer. He sucks the reader right into this story from the first page. David has a very personal reason to hate the Epics, and makes it his mission to bring down the Epic who murdered his father. You see first hand how terrible the Epics can be in action. If you're like me, you have to reorient yourself to understand that the Epics can't ever be the heroes of this story. But then, you also know to keep reading, because it's not as cut and dried as you think.

This whole story felt new and unique to me. Some elements are tried and true, but the execution is unique. I can see this making a great movie. The art direction for Newcago would be fantastic. Having been born in the shadow of this great Midwestern city, it was really compelling to see how Steelheart had distorted this city and remade it in his own image. Seeing the Epics in action as well. The way Sanderson writes, it does feel very vivid and lifelike in my mind.

I didn't give this more than four stars, because it still has that young adult superficiality that I regret when I read Young Adult books. I feel like the publishers must make the authors and editors trim down the books in some way, in this mistaken belief that younger readers can't handle a deeper read. Having read Mistborn by Sanderson, I know he is capable of going deep, and I would love to see more that in this series. The idea is great and the story itself is well done. I just want to feel like I'm reading a more finished/complex work. I refuse to believe that younger readers can't handle it. After all, this story does go to some dark places.

I also wasn't that fond of the relationship between David and Megan. I felt like it was checking of the list for young adult books nowadays--obligatory young adult elements. Don't get me wrong, I really love romance. But romance has to feel real and integral to the story, and Megan and David's relationship wasn't deep enough to get to that point. Megan wasn't likable as a character (or as well developed), and I had trouble believing David would fall for her. Out of the members of the Reckoners, she was the least appealing character to me. I though the Professor, Abraham, Cody and Tia were all really cool. And of course, I liked David. I loved how he was a real geek, a compiler of facts about the Epics to an exhaustive degree. And he had developed the skills in himself to accomplish the goals he needed to have to get his revenge on Steelheart.

Despite the fact that this wasn't a perfect book, I still recommend it readers of superhero fiction. It takes the familiar concepts of the genre and makes you think about it hard. I could almost see Steelheart as a dark version of Superman, much like Plutonian from Irredeemable, Vol. 1 , and that's a very scary thought. I will definitely keep reading this series.

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Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh

Kiss of Snow (Psy-Changeling, #10)Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fans of this series have waited a long time to see the Alpha Wolf and the Cardinal Psy get together.  It was well worth the wait.  These are some of my impressions of this book.

Hawke made it as hard as possible for Sienna. He inadvertently played a lot of emotional games, pushing her away, but then acting so territorial towards her.  He made it hard for Sienna to be happy apart from him, even though he was resisting the idea of them together.  There were times I wanted to pull out my shovel that I reserve for braining annoying heroes and give him a wallop or two.  Don't get me wrong, Hawke is still one of my favorites.  He just jumped on my nerves a bit in this book. I was glad he finally got a clue that he wasn't going to be happy if he wasn't going to be happy with Sienna.

Honestly, I struggle with the sexual values of the Changelings.  I can't see how the pack members sleeping with each other before they find their mates doesn't lead to friction with their future mates. I guess I'm too jealous. I don't like the idea of interacting with my future husband's past sexual partners.  That would definitely give me heartburn.  While I understand the concept of the importance of touch and affection, I don't get how they can be so cavalier about sexual intimacy. I don't buy Hawke's insistence to Sienna that he wasn't using Rosalie. Um, he kind of was, even if she was okay with it.   I can't suspend my personal sexual ethics enough to be okay with all that.  And the fact that Hawke was so jealous of Sienna spending time with Kit but not understanding how Sienna wouldn't like the fact that he was sleeping with another wolf felt like a huge double standard.  Maybe that was a very obvious symptom to the both of them that Hawke was seeing his mate but not "seeing" her.  The man had a head like a vibranium/adamantium alloy. In other words, really, really hard!

Normally, I am all over changeling/werewolf romance freak, but the Psy aspect of this story wins my affection, hands down. I freaking love the Psy. They are super duper kickbutt awesome.  To me, the Psy storyline drives the story.  I'm ever so excited to read and discover who The Ghost is. No, I don't know yet, so no spoilers please.  Now that I have my Hawke/Sienna book under my belt, it's all about the Psy for me.  Yeah, I'll read the Changeling stories, but gimme my Psy!

Was Sienna crazy awesome or what? I had no idea she had those kinds of powers. Singh did a great job revealing that as the story went along.  Her abilities are crucial to protect the SnowDancer pack especially with the future conflicts on the horizon.  I'm glad that she has a mate who realizes how special she is and will do just about anything to keep her safe and knows how much she is loved.

I also loved the Walker/Lara subplot.  Walker is the old adage "still waters run deep."  He fits shadows Hawke's "playing hard to get" behavior.  I think in the case of Walker, he believes he's incapable of feeling deeply for Lara, but why does he treat her like the woman he loves?  You have to read the book to find out how that goes, but I was very satisfied with their courtship.

Even outside of seeing Hawke and Sienna get together, this whole story was satisfying.  Singh writes great romance, but she also has fantastic world-building and a great story overall. And the tension and excitement of the ongoing war building up in this world of Psy versus Changeling (and the aspect that it's not as cut and dried as it seems) makes for compelling reading.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few fans of this series who has gotten around to reading this so late. But I finally did!  I'm a happy camper.

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Seducing the Spy by Celeste Bradley

Seducing the Spy (Royal Four, #4)Seducing the Spy by Celeste Bradley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It reminds me why I love this author. I believe she is criminally underrated among the historical romance authors.  She writes very sexy historical romance that also has substance and wit. Her characters are appealingly quirky and flawed.  This book is so in that vein.

Lady Alicia is Ruined, with a capable R.  It wasn't her fault, but that doesn't make it right.  My heart hurt for Alicia.  I tend to like my heroines virginal, but I also like a heroine who has had a bit of life experience under her belt, and she is a survivor. In other words, I don't think possessing a "V" card is enough to make a successful heroine.   A heroine should be three-dimensional and she should have substance and character. That was so Alicia.  I loved her.  I rooted for her to get her happy ending, and I really wanted it to be with Wyndham!

Now Wyndham is more of the Darcy type hero. Cold, composed and remote.  His reasons for being so make a lot of sense. You see, Wyndham always knows when someone is lying to him. Except for Alicia.  It drives him crazy that he can't read Alicia. Especially since he has began falling for her shortly after they met.  I liked how Alicia brought out the wilder, emotional side in Wyndham.  But how he fought it. At times, I felt his behavior towards her was very unkind, and I wanted him to realize what a gem she was. At the same time, I loved how Alicia demanded respect. She didn't lay down to be abused by him. Even with her diminished circumstances, Alicia stayed true to herself and was her own person. She won her hero fair and square.

Even though it's taken me years to finish this series, I felt like the ending was perfect.  This book is a great combination of light humor and wit, sexy and emotional romance, and a nice dose of suspense and intrigue.  It's an excellent conclusion to the Liar's Club series and its crossover The Royal Four.  I enjoyed catching up with the other characters from The Royal Four, and they made me nostalgic from my days of reading The Liar's Club.

This book is several years old, but I think it's worth tracking down.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Daredevil Visionaries, Volume 3 by Frank Miller, etc

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, Vol. 3Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller, Vol. 3 by Frank Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my least favorite out of the Daredevil Visionaries volumes.  I think the storylines were less compelling and didn't make up for the dated nature of the artwork. Also, there wasn't nearly enough Elektra in it for me.  I don't like Heather Glenn as Matt's girlfriend.  I think that it's a misalliance. Plus, the villains were pretty campy in my opinion.  "Guts" was a lot of fun.  Foggy Nelson, Matt's law partner, goes off on his own adventure to investigate arms dealing for Heather, and gets a reputation as a formidable assassin.  Daredevil goes along as his invisible backup and does all the butt-kicking dirty work for him.  I was sad when it ended. I also liked Matt's what if Elektra hadn't died. The story about Matt as as SHIELD agent wasn't as successful. Oh, and I liked how the Punisher shows up.  They are good contrasting characters, and in some ways mirror each other, although make different choices for the 'good.' Although I find Matt a very likable, sympathetic lead, part of me really respects the Punisher's ethos.  I think when I'm upset with all the injustice and cruelty in the world, having a cypher like the Punisher is good catharsis for me.  In general, I think I am generally more aligned with Daredevil's ethos, but sometimes, The Punisher gets the thumbs up from me.

I did like that I was able to catch up on Daredevil's story.  Now I'm glad that I can read some newer comics about Daredevil and Elektra and get some more updated artwork and storylines.  I don't doubt the influence that Frank Miller and his coworkers have had on this character, and I am grateful for these older books in the series. I'm glad I was able to read these from the library.

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The Wedding Night of an English Rogue by Jillian Hunter

The Wedding Night of an English Rogue: A NovelThe Wedding Night of an English Rogue: A Novel by Jillian Hunter

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good historical romance, a story of reunited lovers, with plenty of steamy romance. However, I never felt that zing, that sense of connection with the characters and that compulsion to keep reading. I felt like it was fine to pick this book up when I had a free moment, and to put it down when I had more important things to do.

I'm not a big fan of lovers reunited stories, but I liked that Heath and Julia are older and wiser, and have lived their lives, and know very well that what they have together is very good and it's worth committing to this time around.

There were some fun moments, especially with the salacious sketch of Heath that falls into the wrong hands. I really liked when Heath realized that he wasn't going to let Julia get away from him this time, no matter what. I love a hero in pursuit!  I wasn't that into the whole "Boscastle Antics" aspect of the story. It reminds me unfavorably of how there is a tendency to wink and nod at a family in a series, and to draw readership for the later stories by reminding the reader of how crazy the family is. Of course, I love series books. No question. I just think that the author's job is to make a storyline so compelling that we can't help but race for the next book. I'm not that intrigued with the other Boscastle rogues at this point. I'll keep reading because I like this author a lot. But it's not an urgency for me right now.

This is a solid B read for me.  A nice past-time with plenty of sexual tension between Julia and Heath that I'm sure many readers will really enjoy.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Swamp Thing, Volume 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder, , Yanick Paquette (Illustrator), Marco Rudy (Illustrator)

Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them BonesSwamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I don't have a frame of reference for this book, since all I know about it is the really cheesy movie that came out many moons ago with Adrienne Barbeau.  I did read an older Hellblazer, where Swamp Thing pops in at the end, but that's about it.  Overall, this was pretty good, but the subject matter is pretty icky.  I did like the concept of nature being sort of neutral when it comes to good and evil.  While Alec has always felt an affinity towards plants, he doesn't look at the green kingdom as a soft, fluffy, harmless place. Instead, he is aware that plants can be in their own way predatory and vicious.  It's an interesting thought, and I see the truth in it.  Case in point, a Clover vine that almost smothered my Crepe Myrtle bush and caused it to be susceptible to fungus that nearly killed it.  That vine might seem harmless, but it certainly wasn't. Let's not even talk about Kudzu.   Anyway, I digress.  In this storyline, nature is a balance between the Red and the Green. The Red is animal life and the Green is plant life.  And then there is the Rot. The dark spirit of decay and destruction.  Now that is a creepy idea.  The fact that those who have this power (of the Rot) can find the tiny spot of necrosis in you and cause it to overtake and destroy your body, turn you into this horrible, shambling zombie who spreads this corruption.  And the only thing that stands between the Rot taking over and destroying life is the champion picked by the Parliament of Trees.  Too bad Alec Holland is a reluctant hero.

I liked the Romeo and Juliet type feel between Alec and Abigail, since they are seemingly on different sides.  It appeals to the romantic in me. What turned me off was the ick factor with the Rot. This book has some very disturbing imagery.   I think it's the healer and lover of life in me.  I am repulsed by the idea of decay and rot, so this book hit me where I love.  This is a visceral read.  The imagery jumping off the page at you. the ending is a huge cliffhanger, so you pretty much have to keep reading it.  I'll definitely follow the series, but not in a row.  I need a breather.

It's a good read, but some scenes are not fun reading, so I'd give it a 3.5/5.0 stars.

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All Star Western, Volume 3: The Black Diamond Probability by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray (Goodreads Author), Moritat (Illustrations)

All Star Western, Vol. 3: The Black Diamond ProbabilityAll Star Western, Vol. 3: The Black Diamond Probability by Jimmy Palmiotti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume doesn't feel as cohesive as previous volumes (and I'm not merely speaking of the variety of stories). The Jonah Hex narrative doesn't seem to go as well together, although I do appreciate getting Hex's backstory. I can see why he's so grumpy. However, I still liked this a lot.  Tons of rip-roaring action, and it has a nice Gothic twist as a certain Mr. Hyde arrives in Gotham to wreak havoc. There's even a nice shoutout to Jane Eyre that made this fan smile. I have a feeling the writer had a lot of fun with these stories, although they are really quite dark, moreso than previous volumes, in my opinion. As usual, I really enjoy the artwork in this series. It's interesting how the male faces tend towards rugged to sometimes ugly, but the females look like dolls. Not an insult. I like the way the artist draws women. They look very pretty, even Tallulah Black, with all her facial scars and eyepatch. (since my interest is drawing/painting women, that stands out for me).  The historical fiction story about the Native American freedom fighter, Tomahawk made me sad.  One of the darker moments of American history (along with slavery and centuries of institutionalized racism against black Americans), and one that we need to be reminded of, although it's never pleasant to consider the systematic extermination of the Native peoples. Tomahawk is an angry man, and I can see why he's angry.  While it was well-written, its inclusion doesn't fit the rest of the book very well at all.

This series never fails to appeal to the western action lover in me!

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Punisher: Enter the War Zone by Greg Rucka (Text), Marco Checchetto (Illustrations), Carmine Di Giandomenico (Illustrations)

Punisher: Enter the War ZonePunisher: Enter the War Zone by Greg Rucka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this series like crazy.  Rucka brings it. He shows all the angles on the Punisher and his partner, Rachel Cole-Alves. How they don't lack morality, but have an extreme sort of ethos that drives them to do what they do and not to be swayed by anything.

The heat is on as the Avengers are put on the trail of the Punisher. They all demonstrate varying levels of being conflicted about taking him down. Some feel that what he does is absolutely valid, and others feel that his murdering is no better than other criminals.

This story arc makes me think about vigilantism and why people feel warranted to take the law in their hands. I won't go into my own thoughts, but I will say that Rucka makes me support Castle and Cole-Alves and their endeavors, and I am firmly on their side.  I think that that's good storytelling where you can become a part of the character's story and process what they are doing and going through.

As always, the artwork is beautiful.  The artist's ability to capture expression and action effortlessly is impressive.

I hope to see more Punisher stories by Rucka in the future.

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Batman Red Hood-The Lost Days by Judd Winick

Batman: Red Hood - The Lost DaysBatman: Red Hood - The Lost Days by Judd Winick

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I became acquainted with the "Under the Red Hood" storyline via the animated movie, and it is definitely a very dark part of the Batman history.  I have recently embarked on exploring the Batman graphic novels, and decided to give this one a swing. This was very good. 

This serves as a bit of a prequel to when the Red Hood enters the Gotham scene. It's not about Batman. It's about Jason Todd, who was found in the ruins of the warehouse that the Joker brought down on his head after beating and torturing him nearly to death.  Initially, Jason is catatonic, but Talia Al'Ghul sees him as a pawn in destroying Batman and mentors him into the dangerous and murderous vigilante/assassin he becomes.  He learns everything that Batman doesn't teach him about the darker Arts of War, with the goal of getting revenge on Joker (and peripherally Batman). In the process, he realizes that deep down, he still believes in fighting for good, but is willing to use extreme methods to deal with evil that Batman would never countenance.

This feels like a credible action/suspense story.  Jason goes deep into the darkest pits of corruption and criminality, learns the skills he needs for his ultimate quest, and finds he can't turn a blind eye when innocents are harmed, or the tutors that Talia acquires for him turn out to be reprehensible in their habits.  He also realizes that not all the means are justified for a desired end. Jason has a phenomenal brain and the incredible acrobatic and martial arts skills that demonstrate very clearly why he was Batman's Robin.  Ultimately, I don't see that he has departed to far from the path that Batman sent him down. Maybe he is lost, but I think he will find his way. I need to read Batman: Under the Red Hood soon!

Definitely worthy of a 4.5/5.0 star rating.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dealing Her Final Card by Jennie Lucas

Dealing Her Final Card (Princes Untamed, #1)Dealing Her Final Card by Jennie Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the hero in this book, Vladimir shows up as a peripheral character in the last Jennie Lucas book I read, A Night of Living Dangerously, I decided to reach for this one.  It also happens that the hero is Russian (and I swoon over Russian heroes).   Talking about drama, wow!

Man, this book was sizzling. The whole scenario and the dialogue and action was crazy.  I couldn't believe the bet that Bree makes. I completely understand why. I loved that she isn't the typical, sweet, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth heroine. She has a history of being a card shark and con artist from childhood, but decides to go straight when she falls in love with Vladimir. Even though he abandons her and turns his back on her.

Their reunion is titillating, to say the least.  There are some pretty outrageous moments in this book.  A couple of scenes are just all kinds of inappropriate, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page. It works for the book, and I like that the author wasn't afraid to go there.

I liked the descriptions and imagery of St. Petersburg. I wanted to be there, feel the cold on my skin and experience the over the top luxury with my own eyes.  The Hawaii scenes were good, but since I am a contrarian who'd rather be walking around in a snow-covered vista than on a beach, I liked St. Petersburg more. Plus, it's Russia. Enough said.

Vladimir could throw money at Bree like nobody's business. He really doesn't get that she didn't want his money.  That she loved him and wanted to protect her sister.  That she had changed and wanted to do the right thing, but she was between a rock and a hard place. Vladimir is the real deal. He's really ruthless, ambitious and cutthroat (in the boardroom). He doesn't change over night.  A broken heart made a fundamentally decent young man into a shark, and it takes time for reunited love to change him back.  I felt that his character was very three-dimensional and I liked that. Bree was also well-developed.  Towards the end, she had me worried. I really thought she was going to go through with something that was just so wrong, even if she was doing it for the right reasons.

This was another book I couldn't put down.  I give it a thumbs up on the drama and the sizzling romance.  Lots of romantic tension and also tension in hoping that the characters get a clue and eventually own up to their love for each other and doing what's right out of love.  I thought this was a very good book.

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In the Sheikh's Marriage Bed by Sarah Morgan

In The Sheikh's Marriage Bed (Harlequin Presents, #2453)In The Sheikh's Marriage Bed by Sarah Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How funny that I read "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" in a couple of days of each other.  I consider this a "Beauty and the Beast" style romance because the sweet, innocent heroine (Beauty) takes the place of her relative and beards the beast in his den. In this case, the beast is a gorgeous, but cold-hearted Prince Zakour (goes by Zak) who wants to make her brother pay for embezzling millions of dollars.  He refuses to let Emily go and is determined to believe she's mercenary and scheming, that her act of innocence is feigned.  He can't believe anyone can be that sweet and honest.  When she bonds with his lonely nephew, abandoned by his mother, he is skeptical, but is more than willing to utilize her skills at managing a five-year-old to his advantage.  And before he knows it, he's demanding marriage.

I liked this book. I felt that Emily was a sweet-heart. I did do a bit of eye rolling at how she constantly seemed to swoon over Zak's good looks.  Now I feel like a hypocrite. If I was in the present of Benedict Cumberbatch for days on end, I'd probably be doing the same.  But anyway, it seems a bit over the top how it was described.

Overall, the chemistry between Emily and Zak was well done.  I think that the tension of not knowing each other's feelings was believable.  When Emily's brother shows up, I liked how that was handled.  He acquits his sister with an impassioned plea, and makes Zak feel like the heel he was.  And I liked Zak's love declaration. He says that he will keep her imprisoned for ever and give her the many babies she always wanted.   Yeah, this isn't a romance for cynics. I'm not one, so it worked for me.

A good escapist Harlequin Presents is just what the doctor ordered when a reader needs a boost. Take this book and get a good night's rest, and you'll be good as new.

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A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

A Night of Living Dangerously (Mills & Boon Modern)A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jennie Lucas is the author to reach for when you want the high drama quotient and the fairy tale vibe to your Harlequin Presents.  Lilley is so starry-eyed, it will probably make a more cynical reader roll her eyes. I didn't mind it so much. I think that if I'm in the mood, it works for the story.  I felt that she definitely deserved better than she got with Alessandro, but in his defense he did try to push her away initially to protect her.  I didn't want her to go back to him when she has important news. I wanted her to go in the other direction. I think it's because I strongly like when the hero has to do the chasing. I don't like when the heroine falls into his arms so easily.  Lilley is a true love believer.  She has a heart that is so sweet and kind, I just wanted to protect her from the world.  I could identify with her fear about taking risks. I think we all feel like that sometimes. Especially when the root is a sense of inadequacy and that no one truly accepts you for who you are. I hate that Alessandro contributed to that feeling of inadequacy in how he treats her when they are married.  He needed and did receive a hard wake up call, but it came at a high price to Lilley.

Jennie Lucas can be a bit over the top sometimes, but in a way, I like that. I think the best Harlequin Presents are the ones that don't feel like real life, but take you away to 100% escapism.  When that's combined with a story full of emotional genuineness it's a great combination.  While I won't ever hang out with billionaires, I can identify with the human emotions that both Lilley and Alessandro feel, and their struggles with family and a sense of meaning for their lives.

I would have to give this four stars because it kept my eyes glued on the page, the sensuality was sizzling, and the character's emotions felt real and powerful and their story unfolded in a way that I was entranced with and didn't want to stop reading. Plus, the Cinderella vibe is very well done.

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Temporary Bride by Patricia Wilson

Temporary BrideTemporary Bride by Patricia Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't rate this very highly because it felt rather tame and didn't really touch my emotions. I read this on a Harlequin Presents Weekend Binge, and while I enjoy those, just picking books randomly from my Pile o' Harlequin Presents, sometimes you get this feeling of incongruity when you read a book that isn't as intense and emotional as the other ones. Unfortunately, this book felt like the ugly stepsister because I was 'feeling' the other books I read so much this weekend. 

Patricia Wilson is a proven vintage Harlequin Presents author. I really enjoy her books and she has more than a few that are all time faves for me. However, no author has a completely winning streak. This one is just decent. Not bad, but not particularly memorable.

What I liked:

*I really liked Brett, Kit's grandfather. I love how Charley immediately bonded with the old man, and how he approved of her and liked her.
*Kit's possessive/jealous leanings. I am unrepentant about my love for jealous/possessive heroes.  He could have been more demonstrative of those traits, but I liked it when I saw it.
*Overall, Charley was a heroine that I liked. She's a bit on the meek side, but that doesn't bother me as much as it might some readers.

What didn't impress me:

*Kit's way of treating Charley was weird. He sent out so many mixed signals.  He admitted at the end that he needed to stop lying and I totally agree. If I was Charley, I think I would have had whiplash at how often Kit's behavior changed.
*I didn't like the whole Antebellum thing.  I think it's my own personal issues with that time period in US History and so it rubbed me the wrong way.
*The evil other woman plot didn't impress me much.  I did like that Brett couldn't stand her but he liked Charley.

I think I have high expectations for the authors I really like, so when I read books by them that are just okay or decent, it's disappointing.  I think I might have enjoyed this more if I hadn't read it between two really intense, dramatic books.  It was a cute book overall.

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Enemies at the Altar by Melanie Milburne

Enemies at the AltarEnemies at the Altar by Melanie Milburne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty intense read.  One of those romances where extreme hate between the main couple is really suppressed longing and desire. In real life, I don't know if I think that suppressed love translates into hate, but "Hope deferred does make the heart sick."  My goodness, Andreas and Sienna are super-duper mean to each other. And Andreas is a hypocrite. He's the kind of guy who calls a woman a whore because she doesn't do what he wants her to do and she doesn't fit his mold for what he wants a woman to be.  I didn't like that about him at all.  I did like the fact that Sienna could easily trade insults with him.  It took me a while to think that I even wanted these two to be together.  There were times when I didn't particularly like either character.  Sienna says and thinks some really mercenary and selfish things, and I didn't like that about her. However, I could understand why she was so prickly and thick-skinned, considering her tough life and living with an arrested development mother with terrible morals and being rejected by her married father.  I wish that Andreas had shown more sympathy and empathy for Sienna. When he finally starts acting like a decent man, it was almost too late for me to feel I wanted him to be with Sienna.  I did like that he went after her when she left him.

I thought that despite the meanness between them, there was good chemistry and I did see their relationship change, develop and blossom. With the conclusion of the book, I had hopes that they would not take each other for granted any longer, and that love had changed both of their hearts and lives.

I don't know if this book will work for everyone. The leads are at times unlikable and mean-spirited. However, I did see a change in both characters and that their feelings for each other weren't just reluctant lust, but real love. For that reason, I gave it four stars.

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Virgin on Her Wedding Night by Lynne Graham

Virgin on Her Wedding Night (Harlequin Presents, #2915)Virgin on Her Wedding Night by Lynne Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very enjoyable read by Ms. Graham.  I don't think of lovers reunited stories as my favorite, because they can have some drama elements that are problematic. However, I do like when there is an unrequited or unfulfilled love that never dies between two people. I did feel that between Valente and Caroline.  Truth is, they both made mistakes and also some lies and conniving relatives came between them.  Valente is pretty dark in some ways, his drive to destroy Caroline's parents' fortunes out of revenge.  I liked that Caroline confronted him about that.  However, Valente obviously truly loved Caroline, and even though he didn't want to admit it to himself, he never stopped loving her.

I like the descriptions and language in this novel. I think Lynne Graham is an underrated writer in the sense that because people can be snooty about category romance, it's assumed that writers in this genre just crank out books and don't put their artistic skills and talent to use.  I don't think that's the case.  I feel that when I read one of her books, she believes in what she's writing.  Her writing is very vivid and descriptive, bringing all the emotions to life and using the characters' body language to reveal who the characters are and what they are feeling.

While I didn't like the way Valente's ex-lover was handled (I'm tend to be a jealous person, working on that, so I would have been way more bothered about finding his ex-mistress's used robe in his bathroom than Caroline was).  Understandably, since she was married for four years, he would have moved on, but that was tacky, and I think he knew it. Maybe subconsciously he wanted to taunt Caroline with it, to let her feel what it was like for him, knowing she had dumped him and married someone more suitable.

Caroline's parents were a hot mess.  I liked that while this is a happy ending book, her parents' negative traits weren't glossed over.  However, Valente took responsibility for taking care of them because he knew Caroline loved her parents.  For someone who supposedly has no pity or heart, Valente was actually a good person and a good husband.  You could tell how much he loved Caroline.  Caroline had to grow up the hard way.  While she had been coddled and sheltered, she learned the hard way the cost of that life and denying her own needs to make her family happy.  I liked her a lot.

I give this books a thumbs up. Nothing much I didn't like about it (except for the tacky part with the ex-mistress).

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Ready Player One by Earnest Cline, Wil Wheaton (Audiobook Narrator)

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really glad the Action/Adventure Aficionados group chose this as a monthly reading selection. It encouraged me to grab the audiobook from my library. And this was a book I am definitely glad I read. 

I grew up in the 80s, so most of the pop culture references hit me right where I lived. I'm not much of a gamer, although we did have an Atari 2600 growing up, so I totally got some of the more obvious ancient gaming references, even though the more obscure gaming references passed me by. But that was okay, because many of the references were explained over the course of this novel.

This book will tap into the reader's hidden or untapped geeky depths. Maybe you already know you're a geek of old.  Or maybe you never realized how much of a geek you are. Either way, you will find some resonance in this novel.

To be honest, I was thrown by the this novel's rather bleak beginning.  I expected something more light-hearted. In a strange way, this book is both tragic and light-hearted fun.  The tragedy is in the fact that people hide from the world in the worlds of fiction and gaming when the world is falling apart around them.  And who can blame them, really?   Some of us know how the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, feels, having felt socially awkward and rejected by the mainstream, finding your identity in your particular fandom or sub-culture. Also, it was amazingly shocking how ruthless IOI was in getting their way.  I can be a bit suspicious and mistrustful of big business, no question about that. But I didn't expect IOI to be willing to commit murder to win the contest.  That was surprising to me.

I really liked Wade as the lead character.  He is quite cynical in a way that I found sad, but I don't live in the world he does. Maybe all belief would be snatched out of me too if I lived what he lives through (I hope not).  Even with his flaws, he's a rootable hero, and I was actually quite worried about him throughout this novel I also liked H and Ar3mis and Shoto.  I wasn't expecting a bad guy, but boy does this book have a majorly hard core bad guy and they are quite relevant to the world we live in today.

Wil Wheaton is a fantastic narrator. He imbues the characters with plenty of life, makes them believable and sympathetic when they are supposed to be, and seriously mega-jerks when they are not.

This is one of those books that I feel is enhanced significantly by the audiobook experience.  I felt even more like I was part of the book.  It's a long book, but it doesn't feel long, because the story flows so well.

Even though some aspects could be on the technical end of computer knowledge, it doesn't feel technical or dry to me.  I'm not a computer programmer by trade or aspiration, so anything that goes too much in that direction tends to go over my head. Thankfully, Cline doesn't bog down the narrative with too many technical explanations.

I found the gamescape fascinating, and I rooted for Wade and his friends to work their way through the OASIS and claim the Egg.

I think that Cline appeals to readers in that he has so many different avenues of pop culture that even if you aren't a gamer or into online culture, you can still appreciate the TV, books, music and movie tidbits from this book. I am not shamed that I have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, since I did watch the show. If folks are giving out geek creds, I have plenty in other areas.  Even if you aren't technically a geek, you might still enjoy this book. It's a fun adventure book with plenty of laughs, more sadness than I expected, and realistic characters who will have you cheering them on.

I give this one the highest of fives.

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Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis (Illustrator) Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis (Illustrator)

Justice League, Vol. 3: Throne of AtlantisJustice League, Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Wonder Woman tries to save a friend from the dark path she's chosen. And there is all-out warfare between the surface world and the Kingdom of Atlantis, when a submarine is sabotaged and fires on the underwater city. Good thing the Justice League is ready to stand in the gap!

I thought this was a pretty good graphic novel. The artwork was very well done. The opening story featuring Wonder Woman trying to redeem Cheetah was good. I didn't have a lot of information on her backstory, but now I know how Barbara Ann Minerva becomes the super-villainess Cheetah. That was pretty interesting.

I liked the large role that Cyborg plays in the battle against Atlantis invading forces. Arthur aka Aquaman is put in a very uncomfortable position of having to fight against his own people and even his brother, Orm. I especially liked when some secondary JL members were activated, including one of my personal favorites, Zatanna.

I'm not sure why I'm not enjoying the JL books as much as some other comics, since I am a huge fan of the JL from the animated shows and movies. I won't give up. Maybe it's just the writers and the stories that aren't working for me.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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